Nuclear Medicine

What is a Nuclear Medicine Scan?

The purpose of this diagnostic study is to provide an image that evaluates organ function, and locates disease or tumors. Nuclear scans also show the size, shape and position of the organ being scanned. After you are given a low dose of a radioactive substance (which may be referred to as a tracer or radionuclide), images are able to be obtained with a special camera based on the energy produced by the radioactive substance. The extent to which the tracer is absorbed by a particular organ or tissue may indicate the level of function of that system. A diseased or poorly functioning organ will emit a different signal than a healthy organ. One of the unique features of a nuclear medicine scan is that it shows the “function” of the organ or tissue being evaluated as opposed to just a picture. This helps to determine if the organ is working properly.

Nuclear medicine scans can be used to assist your Physician in diagnosing disease, tumors, infection and other disorders by evaluating organ function. Some of the specific reasons it may be used include:

  • Analyzing kidney functioniStock_000021906241_Full
  • Image blood flow and function of the heart
  • Scan lungs for respiratory and blood flow problems
  • Identify blockage of the gallbladder
  • Determine the presence or spread of cancer
  • Measure thyroid function
  • Evaluate bones for fracture, infection, arthritis or tumors
  • Locate presence of infection

Preparation and Special Instructions

Instructions will be given to you at the time of scheduling, whether by our scheduling department or your physician. Wear loose, comfortable clothing for your test. Discuss with your physician if you are claustrophobic or worried about lying still during the scan. The radioactive material used is made precisely for the time of your test, so it is very important that you be on time.

Inform the technologist of all medications you are currently taking. There are medications that could possibly interfere with the radioactive materials given for the exam. Also, be sure to mention any recent imaging studies involving injected contrast media(dye) and oral or rectal contrast (used in gastrointestinal studies) since they could interfere.

If there is a chance that you may be pregnant, notify your physician and/or technologist.

What to Expect

Depending on the area of the body being scanned, you may need to wear a patient gown. Remove all jewelry, dentures and other metals that may affect the scan.

Prior to the scan, you will be given a small amount of radioactive material, either by injection or orally. As this moves throughout the body, it can be traced by using a special camera called a gamma camera and a computer. It eventually collects in the organ being examined and gives off special rays called gamma rays.

It is possible that you will come in first for the administration of the radioactive material then return later for the actual scan. Sometimes the entire procedure may be done during one visit. There are also exams that require multiple visits in a day or over a few days. The actual imaging time varies, but generally less than one hour.

Prior to the exam, you may be asked to empty your bladder. As the tracer passes through the body, it eventually ends up in the bladder. If the bladder contains urine and tracer elements, it could possibly block the view of part of the pelvic bones if you are having a bone scan.

When the exam starts, you will lie on a special exam table and be made as comfortable as possible. It is important for you to lie still for the study. The gamma camera may be close to the area of your body that is being examined.

Once your nuclear medicine scan is complete, you may resume normal activity and eating habits. The radioactive material usually passes through the urine or stool within 48-72 hours.

After being injected, it is advisable that you stay at least ten feet away from children 18 years of age or younger and/or pregnant family members for a period of 24 hours.

Your test will be reviewed by one of our radiologist who specializes in nuclear medicine. Once the films are reviewed, a written report will be sent to your physician.